Category Archives: Calendar

Was there a Year Zero?


Myself By T.V. Antony Raj


Year zero - blue

Do you know that year zero does not exist in the Anno Domini system of our present Gregorian calendar and in its predecessor, the Julian calendar?

In 525 AD, Dionysius Exiguus (c.470-c.544), a 6th-century monk born in Scythia Minor, modern Dobruja shared by Romania and Bulgaria, introduced the Anno Domini (AD) era used to number the years of both the Gregorian calendar and the (Christianized) Julian calendar.

According to his friend and fellow-student, Cassiodorus (De divinis Lectionibus, c. xxiii), though by birth a Scythian, Dionysius was in character a true Roman and a thorough Catholic, an accomplished Scripturist, learned in both Greek and Latin.

Dionysius introduced the Anno Domini era to identify the several Easters in his Easter table; however, he did not use it to date any historical event. Before he devised his Easter table, Julian calendar years were identified by naming the consuls who held office that year. In the preface to his Easter table, Dionysius stated that the “present year” was “the consulship of Probus Junior [Flavius Anicius Probus Iunior]” which was also 525 years “since the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” No one knows how he arrived at that number, but there is evidence of the system he applied.

Dionysius invented the Anno Domini system of numbering years to replace the Diocletian era, based on the accession of Emperor Diocletian, that was in vogue and used in an old Easter table because he did not wish to continue the memory of a tyrant who persecuted Christians.

The Anno Domini era became dominant in Western Europe only after the English monk Venerable Bede used it to date the events in his “Ecclesiastical History of the English People,” which he completed in 731 AD.

Historians have never included a year zero. For example, there are 999 years between January 1, 500 BC and January 1, 500 AD: 500 years BC, and 499 years preceding 500 AD.

In the Gregorian calendar system that we use now, the year 1 AD follows 1 BC without an intervening year zero. So, the year zero does not exist. Thus the year 2013 actually signifies “the 2013th year.” The absence of a year numbered 0 leads to some confusion concerning the boundaries of other decimal intervals, such as decades and centuries. However, in all Buddhist and Hindu calendars as well as in astronomical year numbering there is a “year zero” that coincides with the Julian year 1 BC, and in ISO 8601:2004 where it coincides with the Gregorian year 1 BC.

In fact, the issue of the millennium reflects a Christian-centric view. Outside the Christian world the year 2000 will actually be the year 5760 according to the Jewish calendar, 5119 in the current Maya great cycle, 5100 years elapsed in Kali Yuga according to the Hindus, 2544 according to Buddhism and 1420 according to the Moslem calendar.

So, the question is: “What exactly is the millennium, and are we actually celebrating on the correct date?” For example, the 20th century began on January 1, 1901, likewise the third millennium of the Gregorian calendar began on Monday, January 1, 2001, and not on the widely celebrated Saturday, January 1, 2000.

This anomaly arose because the Gregorian calendar begins with a year 1 instead of 0. Cardinal and ordinal numbering of years is, therefore same:

    • The year 10 is the tenth year of the calendar and the end of the first decade. 
    • The year 11 is the first year of the second decade. 

Despite this rule, years ending in 0, and not 1, are commonly perceived as marking the beginning of a new decade, century, or millennium. Decades, however, are more used as a collective term such as “the 1930s” and not a periodic term such as “1930-1939”.

By the way, could we attribute the absence of year zero to the fact that Indian mathematician and astronomer Brahmagupta’s numeral for zero (0) did not reach Europe until the eleventh century, and Roman numerals had no symbol for zero?

Bindhu:The ancient Indian symbol for Zero - a circle with a dot in the middle, symbolizing the void and the negation of the self.
Bindhu: The ancient Indian symbol for Zero – a circle with a dot in the middle, symbolizing the void and the negation of the self.

Spring Forward to DST


Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

Yesterday at 1:30 pm I received a phone call from my elder daughter Sujatha who lives in Palayamkottai, Tirunelveli, India. I asked her “Is it an emergency call? Isn’t it midnight over there? Shouldn’t you be sleeping?”

She laughed and said, “Appa, it’s only eleven o’clock in the night, not midnight.”

Then it dawned on me. I remembered my daughter-in-law, Ligia, telling my wife that morning something about daylight saving time coming into force in the Eastern Time Zone (EST) where Elkridge, MD is.

In India we don’t have this phenomenon called Daylight Saving Time (DST) since in most part of the country we have almost equal amount of daytime and night-time the whole year round.

Daylight-saving time, or DST, is the period of the year when clocks are moved one hour ahead. This has the effect of creating more sunlit hours in the evening during months when the weather is the warmest. The clocks are advanced ahead by one hour at the beginning of DST, and are moved  back one hour (“spring forward, fall back”) to return to standard time (ST).

The  transition from ST to DST has the effect of moving one hour of daylight from the morning to the evening; and the transition from DST to ST effectively moves one hour of daylight from the evening to the morning.

Yesterday, Sunday, March 11 at 2 a.m., the Eastern Time Zone officially switched from standard time to DST, giving us a later sunrise and sunset. DST will now be in effect for 238 days, or about 65% of the year. DST will end at 2 a.m. on November 4, 2012.

So, from yesterday, the time difference between New Delhi, India and Washington DC, USA is -9:30 hours instead of -10:30 hours.

New Delhi is 9:30 hours ahead of Washington DC. That means when it is 8:00 a.m. in Elkridge, Maryland, USA, it is 5:30 pm in Palayamkottai, Tirunelveli, India.

Why does anyone bother with daylight saving time in the first place?

Benjamin Franklin, the 18th century icon, is widely credited with coming up with the concept of daylight saving time in one of his satiric essays. He suggested a later sunset to decrease the use of fuel for artificial lights.

In an effort to conserve fuel, war-torn Germany, during World War I, was the first country in the world to introduce Daylight Saving Time (DST). Germany began observing DST on May 1, 1916. As the war progressed, most countries in Europe followed suite.

United States introduced the Standard Time Act on March 19, 1918 that established standard time zones and set summer Daylight Saving Time  to begin on March 31, 1918. Though the idea of DST was beneficial to the country, it was unpopular on many fronts and US Congress abolished DST after the war. DST then became a local option and observed in some states.

When World War II began,on February 9, 1942 President Franklin Roosevelt implemented year-round DST, called “War Time”. It lasted till the last Sunday in September 1945. From the following year, many states and localities in US adopted summer DST.Today, most of the United States and its territories observe DST. However, DST is not observed in Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the state of Arizona.

“There’s a Navajo saying about it,” said Marshall Trimble, Arizona’s State Historian, “That only the U.S. government could believe that when you chop the top off a blanket and sew it on the bottom, you have a longer blanket.”

Some tribes, including the Hopi and, locally, the Yavapai-Prescott Tribe, don’t spring forward in Arizona, but others like the Navajo Indian Reservation, does observe DST. This creates time zone pockets within time zone pockets, causing headaches for travelers in northeastern Arizona.

“Depending on where you’re coming from, you could change your watch, drive a few miles, change it again, drive a few miles and change it again,” said Trimble.